Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lesson Two: Listening

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak
and slow to become angry.   James 1:19  NIV

Sensory skills play a very important role in shamanic work, and today's post is about listening.   A few years ago, I would not have thought it necessary to include a lesson on how to listen.  Before you brush it off as unimportant or irrelevant, I encourage you to read it through, and to think about the role this simple skill plays in your own life.  

As a child, I was taught not to speak when adults were speaking, and it was considered rude to interrupt another person while they were talking.  I'm an older lady, so that was a long time ago. In modern culture, the ability to listen is becoming a lost art form. To a large degree, I blame social media, because social media teaches us to comment, post and say what we want to say, when we want to say it, regardless of whether or not it is true, and whether or not it is to the detriment of another person. Social media teaches us that our opinion is the only one that matters, and others are not allowed to disagree with us or have a different opinion.  We also see a lot of poor listening skills displayed in the media on news and talk shows.  If you watch these, do you find it difficult to hear what is being said because everyone on the show is talking over each other at the same time?  Do you notice that the shows also tend to be loud, as each person struggles to make their voice stand out above the others?  

Yesterday I watched a quilting show, where a guest teacher had been invited onto the show to demonstrate a specialty technique that she developed, and for which she is considered an expert.  The guest teacher barely got a word in over the show host, who asked, and then answered her own questions.  I was so disappointed, and found myself wishing the host would be quiet so that the guest could teach what she felt was important to know about the technique, and not what the host felt was important.

We all filter the world through our own special lens, and we are all in different places in our spiritual growth.  Being a good listener doesn't mean that we have to agree with a differing opinion, but we do need to try to communicate with those around us in a constructive way. When we don't listen to the other person's point of view, or try to see through that person's filter, misunderstandings and communication problems can occur.   

When you take a shamanic "journey", you embark on a quest for knowledge, guidance and healing from Creator.  You are trying to view the issue, not through your own lens, but through that of the compassionate spirit who helps you.  People tend to carry bad habits from their physical life into their spiritual practices, so if you have not learned to be a good listener in your real life, you will not be a good listener in your spiritual work.  If you are not a good listener, you will not be able to hear the valuable teachings that are being given to you. If you plan to pursue the healer's path and work with others, the ability to listen well is a critical skill in your toolbox.  We will talk more about that in future lessons.

To practice the art of listening, you must become aware of  how you interact with, and respond to, those around you.  Stephen R. Covey said that "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply." When you are in a conversation with someone, do you find yourself thinking about how you will respond before you have even finished listening to what the other person has to say?  If you are forming a response in your mind while the other person is still talking, then you are not listening.   Don't assume that you already know what a person is going to say, or that you know the question that will be asked.

We also need to remove the distractions that prevent us from listening.   When you are in a conversation with someone, are you constantly answering other calls or texts on your cell phone?   When someone visits your home, do they have to compete with a loud television set or radio?   When someone takes you out to a nice restaurant, are your eyes always scanning the room to see what is going on around you?   Does your mind wander off to things that are going on in your own life, like work, the grocery list, the children's ball practice, an argument you had with your spouse, etc?   Turn off outside distractions and make good eye contact with the person you are speaking with.   

If you do interrupt someone who is speaking, show your respect by letting them finish.  Allow them to go first by saying, "I'm sorry, please finish what you were saying."  

Notice body language, both your own and theirs.   Does your body language convey boredom or agitation?  Do you fidget?   If you sit on the edge of your seat like pins and needles, it conveys to the other person that you are anxious to make a response to them, or go on to something else.  Does their body language convey a deeper feeling or emotion than they express through their words?  Sometimes what is in the heart has a difficult time reaching up to the throat and the words get stuck.  Body language can say what the words do not.


Try to open your mind and understand that person's point of view.   Where are they coming from?  Everyone has a story to tell, and a reason why they are where they are. When you listen, you may find that you learn something new, or reach a deeper understanding or truth.  There is always something to learn from another person's story.   I love this quote from the Dalaii Lama. "When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; But when you listen, you may learn something new."  It should go without saying that when someone shares with you, the information that is shared needs to remain confidential. Be trustworthy and sensitive and don't repeat what has been said unless you have permission from the other person to do so.

Show that you care about what is being said by conveying understanding and empathy to their situation.   Ask questions to facilitate deeper understanding.   "How do you feel about that?"   "What I heard was . . . is that what you meant?"  By showing that you care, the other person will feel that what they have to say is also important, and they will also have a greater feeling of self-worth and value as a person.

Finally, follow the three second rule.   Before you make a response, allow a few seconds to pass so that you will know the other person has finished speaking before you reply.   Also, this gives you some time to think about your response.   I love the little graph below, which, for me, says it all.



The Creator will speak to us, and through us, if we allow ourselves to listen.     

Exercise:    For one week, be aware of and evaluate your conversations and interactions with other people in your life.   Do you find that you frequently interrupt others?  Do you form opinions before the other person has finished speaking?   Do you show interest in the conversation?   Do you give the other person your complete attention during the conversation or does you mind wander off?  Do you wait a few seconds to respond to what the other person has said?  How could you have been a better listener?  Also, turn off the television or radio in your home for one week.  Take a break from social media.  Write down any observations, lessons or messages you receive during this quiet time.   Go into nature and spend an hour listening to the world around you.   Do not speak, just listen.  What do you see, hear, or notice that is extraordinary?  What insights do you receive?



I will leave you with this prayer from Chief Dan George.   I keep a copy of it under the glass of my desk at work, as a reminder to myself to be a good listener and to choose when to speak.

"May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And above all, may silence make you strong."

In our next lesson together, we will discuss illness from a shamanic perspective.


If you have any questions about Lesson Two, please fill out the contact page on my web site: http://thebearismybrother.com/Contacts/  I will try to get back to you as quickly as I can.   Also, please feel free to join and post questions to the Facebook study group.

Until we meet again, may you walk in beauty and grace.

Spirit Bear











Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lesson One: An Overview of Shamanism

Welcome to your beginner's course on shamanic journeying.    It is my intent, and my mission, that your experience in this course should be pleasant, and that your work here is emotionally fulfilling, personally rewarding, and spiritually uplifting.  

There are several reasons why people become interested in shamanic journeying.    The first is simple curiosity.    They've heard about shamanism, and just want to learn a little more and to experience it firsthand.    For those students, this course will provide an excellent introduction to shamanic healing.    You will learn to move through the worlds, you will journey to meet spiritual allies, and you will build a solid foundation for more advanced work, should you desire to continue past the introductory level.

For some students, this will be the second attempt at beginning shamanism.    I have worked with students in the past who either had an unpleasant learning experience the first time around, didn't feel like they received the information they needed, or were simply unsuccessful in their first attempts.   If you fall into this category, please understand that no learning attempt is ever wasted.  You always gain more insight into any teaching the second time you experience it.    The more you experience, the greater your understanding will be.   This is the medicine wheel circle of learning, which I will explain to you more fully in a subsequent lesson.

Some students are so thirsty for knowledge, they jump in headfirst, eager to swim on the first stroke.    For those who want to start swimming right away, I encourage you to slow down a little and take your time as you work through each lesson, so that you get the maximum benefit from each journey and experience.    Remember that at the beginner's level, you are building a very important foundation for future learning and greater experiences.    This course has been designed to help you maneuver quickly and easily, but in a logical progression that will help you retain what you learn here, and to accomplish the learning objectives for the course within a reasonable time frame.

Finally, there are students who enroll because they feel they are called to do healing work.   Some of you are just moving forward on faith, looking for the road that will lead you into following the path you're meant to travel.    Shamanic healing is a calling.   If it is your calling, you will not be able to turn away.   It will draw you in, taking you deeper and further with every step.    If it is not your calling, you may feel like you wish to fall away.   If that happens to you, or you begin to feel that shamanic healing was not your call, I encourage you to keep going, at least until the end of this beginning course material.    There are many beautiful and deeply profound healing modalities, and each skill you learn only serves to enrich and to enhance your other skills.

With that said, I encourage you to open your mind and your heart to what you are about to experience in this course.     As I mentioned, there are many excellent healing modalities to explore.   Students who come to shamanic work have already experienced one or more of these techniques.     Most frequently, that experience has been Reiki.  

I ask you, for the moment, to set those techniques and experiences to the side.  I am not asking you to leave them behind, nor am I asking you to forget about them.  Just set them aside for the duration of this coursework so that you can be fully present, and open to the shamanic experiences you are about to receive.   

I would also like to say that my views on shamanic work have changed over the years.   I will strive to present your course material both as I have learned it, and as I view it now.   This will give you a broader range of the study and help you decide what beliefs you hold as true in your own heart.

Shamanic experiences tend to be profoundly unique and deeply rich and rewarding experiences.    If you are constantly comparing what you learn here to what you already know, or how you do it somewhere else, you will not be focused, and you won't get the maximum benefit from your course.    Embrace each step of your journey as a uniquely new and exciting experience to explore and to enjoy.

Lesson One
An Overview of Shamanism

LEARNING OBJECTIVE:  Have a basic understanding of the origins of shamanic healing and discuss the 3 major concepts of shamanism as it is known today:  Core Shamanism, Classic Shamanism and the Path of Direct Revelation.

Shamanism is the oldest spiritual practice known to humankind.    The word "shaman" comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia and is used to describe a spiritual healer.   The practice of shamanism can be found throughout history in parts of Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, Greenland and native North and South America.    Sandra Ingerman, a psychotherapist and shamanic teacher who served for many years as the Educational Director for the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, effectively sums it up this way, “The fact that the practice has survived and thrived for tens of thousands of years speaks to the potency of the work".

The distinguishing characteristic of shamanism is its focus on an ecstatic or trance state in which the shaman leaves the body to travel to other worlds.  These travels are called the shamanic journey.  

Mircea Eliade, a Romanian professor at the University of Chicago and a leading interpreter of religious experience, established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day.  Eliade published an exhaustive work called Shamanism:  Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.  It is a well- known study of shamanic practices around the world.

Eliade described the shaman in this way:
“He commands the techniques of ecstasy – that is, because his soul can safely abandon his body and roam at vast distances, can penetrate the underworld and rise to the sky.  Through his own ecstatic experience, he knows the roads of the extraterrestrial religions.  He can go below and above because he has already been there.  The danger of losing his way in these forbidden regions is still great; but sanctified by his initiation and furnished with his guardian spirit, a shaman is the only human being able to challenge the danger and venture into a mystical geography.”

There are several views of shamanic practice.

CORE SHAMANISM represents a system of shamanic beliefs and practices that are most commonly found around the globe, as established by Michael Harner, PhD, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.   Core shamanism integrates indigenous shamanism and   other spiritual practices, and includes rapid drumming that induces a Shamanic State of Consciousness (SSC), communication with power animals and ritual dance.  Those who practice core shamanism usually do not refer to themselves as shamans, and prefer to use the term “shamanic practitioner”.   These core shamanic techniques are stripped of their cultural context, making them “teachable” to those not raised in that culture.   (Refer to Michael Harner’s work The Way of the Shaman).  

CLASSIC SHAMANISM describes the cross-cultural experiences of tribal shaman from around the world.   In the classic view, the shaman is called by the spirits, and is initiated by them into shamanic healing, usually by way of a near death or traumatic experience.   Classic shamanism incorporates the same tools as core shamanism (i.e. drumming to induce a trance state, power animals, use of hallucinogens, etc.)

Sandra Ingerman describes shamanism as THE PATH OF DIRECT REVELATION, in which the shamanic journey “helps us to part the veils between the seen and unseen worlds and access information and energies that can help awaken us and restore us to wholeness”.    As Sandra says, "Currently, there is a dramatic revival of shamanism in the West, with a wide range of people integrating shamanic practices into their lives, including students, housewives, teachers, psychotherapists, doctors, lawyers, nurses, politicians and scientists.  I believe that one of the main reasons for the revival is that people want to be able to access their own spiritual guidance.  We want to stop giving away our power to socially acceptable authority figures.  We know that we are the only ones who truly have the power to change our own lives.”

My personal view of shamanic work has changed over the last 20 years, and I would like to take some time here to talk about my background, my native roots, and what I feel about how shamanic work that is being done in modern times.

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist Church.  I grew up Christian, and that is still my religious belief.   I believe in Jesus Christ and I think of him as father, brother, healer, teacher, master, and best friend.   He gave so much, and asked nothing in return, except that we believe in him and that we accept that he died for us to save us from our sins.  In my personal view, He is the Master Healer. 

Shamanic practice is not a religion.  It is a spiritual healing art that is practiced by people of many different religions and in many cultures around the world, and yet it is often misunderstood without the confines of organized religion.   I have struggled with this over the years, and I know that many of my students, especially here in the Southeast US, face the same struggles.   For now, I will just say that, over the course of your study here, you will work through it, and find the balance and peace in it.

I have native blood, but my family did not practice the teachings.  My heritage is on my mother's side of the family, and I often wondered why they didn’t try to learn more about their native ancestry.  My great-grandfather’s name was “Ocee”, and originally, they were from the Tampa area of Florida.   I have his medicine box, and have been told stories of the herbs, bones, and other small items that he kept in it, although those are long since gone.

You must understand that, at one time, it was against the law to be in Alabama if you were an Indian.  Use of the language, the ceremonies, the dress, etc., was not only discouraged, but in many cases, forbidden.   This really came home to rest with me during a visit with Tom Hendrix in Florence, Alabama.   I spent an entire afternoon listening to his stories, and spending time in the prayer room of the wall that he built by hand, in honor of his great-great-grandmother, Te-lah-nay.   As Tom shared Te-lah-nay’s journey, I understood why I had not grown up in the customs of the native people.   If you are ever in Alabama, it would be well worth your time to visit this sacred place.   You can find it by visiting Tom’s page at  www.ifthelegendsfade.com.


Ishatae . . . a quiet place
Photo Credit:  Tom Hendrix www.ifthelegendsfade.com

In the later years of my life, I did meet Native mentors who taught me a lot about the ceremonies and ways of the Native people.   This came after years of prayer, and I am very grateful to them for their time and for their teachings.   It has been difficult to walk between the white and native worlds, much more from the white perspective than from the native.   Over the years, many white people have tried to take my native heritage from me, while the native people have embraced it, and several have told me they think of me as full blood.  A few years ago, my native ancestry was proven in my DNA and now, no one can take this from me.   I walk the path I am called to walk, and I am what I am.

When my eyes first opened to shamanic healing work, I knew absolutely nothing about it.   I just felt a nudge in my heart that would not go away.   I had no teachers, no mentors, nor any elders to talk to.  I just knew that I needed to learn.   My first efforts were more of a meditation.   I put on some music and just tried to visualize.    I asked my spirit guide to come to me.   I did this every day, until slowly, over the course of due time, my vision opened and I could see my guide’s face.  His face was painted, half red, and half black, straight down the center line of his face.  In later research, I learned that was a form of face-painting often done by the Seminole people.  He wore a single eagle feather in his hair, and he held his head at an angle.  In the proud profile, I could see strength, courage, compassion, and wisdom.  He was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.

For about two years, I worked alone with this one guide.  We explored and we talked together.   The more I worked with him, the more that my vision opened.  At first, I saw, brief images, like pictures.  Later, they included movement, sound, textures, tastes and smells. 

After that first two years, I found a class in shamanic journeying that was offered by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.   This class served to confirm much of what I had learned on my own, but I left it feeling no small degree of shame.   The teachers ridiculed those who wanted to journey on their own, saying you didn’t journey for yourself, and if you wanted to journey for yourself, you had no place in shamanic work.    I have some deep thoughts to share with you about that, and will do so in a future lesson.  

I would like to clarify some terminology, since most people tend to struggle with this.  When someone asks me to teach them, they often use the big titles that they think they will become, such as “Shaman Priest”, etc.  Native American people do not use the word “shaman”.   You will hear the word “medicine” man or woman, but it is always a name that is used by others within the community, not by the one who is doing the healing work.  As one mentor told me, “If you claim this power, you will lose it.”    Sometimes when I am introduced at a ceremony, other people refer to me as a shaman, but I always cringe when I hear the term and I correct them.   I am a person who uses shamanic journeying techniques to facilitate a spiritual healing journey for another person.  I am not a shaman, nor am I a medicine woman.   I am just a woman, doing the best I can to fulfill my purpose and calling during my time here on Earth.    

During this course, you will learn to journey to your spiritual guides for personal growth, for spiritual enlightenment and for your own well-being.   We will approach our study together as the Path of the Direct Revelation described by Sandra Ingerman.

Exercise:  For this lesson, give yourself some quiet time to reflect on what you hope to gain from this course of study.   What are your learning goals or objectives?   How would you eventually like to use what you learn here?   Your goals may change over time as you learn and grow, and that’s okay.   This entry is about where you are right now, in this time and space.
Write down any thoughts, hopes or dreams you have in your journal.

If you have any questions about Lesson One, please fill out the contact page on my web site: http://thebearismybrother.com/Contacts/  I will try to get back to you as quickly as I can.

May you walk in beauty and grace,

Spirit Bear

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Journey Begins

Welcome 2017 . . .

If you found this blog, chances are you followed the link from my home page:
www.thebearismybrother.com.

My name is Valerie.    I am a shamanic teacher and practitioner in rural East Central Alabama.  I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church, and I am a Christian.  I have native heritage, and I follow those traditions and teachings as well.   To me, they are not divided.   The more I study, the more I see and understand that all things truly are connected.  All of my healing work and study is done with prayer, and that is how I work and teach.  

My personal journey in shamanic healing began in the late 1990's.  Over the years I have studied many different healing modalities to include reiki, soul retrieval, extraction, depossession, energy medicine, herbal medicine, massage therapy, quantum touch, biofield healing, the medicine wheel, sound healing, astral dynamics, Hemi-Sync, remote viewing and EFT.    This is not a complete list, but should be enough for you to understand that I have devoted most of my life to learning as much as I can about the healing arts.  

Over the months, a lot of people have asked me to teach them about shamanic journeying.  For the most part, people are looking for one-on-one discussion or lessons.  I would love to support and interact with people in this way, but cannot sustain that type of forum in my life at this time.   As a practitioner, I do not charge for healing work. This means that I work full time to support myself, and do my shamanic work after hours and on weekends.   Time is at a premium.

I realize that there are few places to learn about this kind of work, especially here in the South.  One of the main reasons that I chose to become a shamanic teacher (through Sandra Ingerman's teacher training program), was to make this work more available to people here at home, without the need to spend a lot of money or travel long distances.

I've given it a lot of thought and prayer, and have created this blog as a sort of classroom.  I am offering you a journey into shamanic healing.  In the coming months, I will post lessons to this blog which are designed to help teach you the origins and foundations of shamanic practice.  You will learn to journey, and I will provide resource materials for you to work with.  I have also created a Facebook page where you can converse and interact with other students, and where you can ask questions.   There is another moderator, in addition to myself, who will help to manage the group.   Here is the link:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/337971343251587/   This is a closed group, so your posts and questions to the group will remain private.  

Over the years, I have studied hard and asked hard questions, both of myself, my teachers, and of others who practice in this field.   I firmly believe that, in any course of study, you get back what you put in.   If you wish to undertake a course in shamanic study, you must approach the work with an open mind and an open heart.   Be willing to listen, to question, to explore and to work hard.

Within the next few days, I will create a post into the origins of shamanic healing, and some of the fields of study it offers.  If at any time you have a question, or need clarity, please post or message to the Facebook group, or fill out the contact form on my web site at:
http://thebearismybrother.com/Contacts/
I will do my best to help you.

I have never seen anyone teach this material through a blog, and I realize it is an unorthodox method of teaching, but I think it's worth a try.  One thing I like about the Blogger is that I can go back and edit each lesson as necessary to provide greater depth and meaning, and the blog posts for each lesson will always be up to date.

With that said, this course is intended to be completed in a progression, with each skill building on a previous one, with more depth and detail.

This is a busy world and most people have a string of demands on their time.  If you get behind in reading the blog, please avoid the temptation to skip over lessons or skim through material.  In order to get the most benefit from the course, you will need to put your best effort into it.   Take one lesson, one step, one breath at a time.

I look forward to being part of your journey.

May you walk in beauty and grace.

Spirit Bear



Photo Credit:  Blog at morningjoy.wordpress.com